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Libyan operation will continue for as long as necessary

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron flew to Tripoli on Thursday, where they were greeted by cheering crowds as they agreed to carry on military operations for as long as is necessary to protect Libyans.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron flew to Tripoli on Thursday, where they were greeted by cheering crowds as they agreed to carry on military operations for as long as is necessary to protect Libyans.

This was a daring move on the part of the two leaders, not because they visited the Libyan capital amid security concerns, but because they announced their countries' readiness to continue to shoulder the responsibility for developments in Libya.

Political risks have been growing in Libya. As many have expected, wide rifts have started to form among Libyan leaders, who are celebrating their victory despite the fact that the war is not over yet and Gaddafi is still on the run.

The British prime minister urged the toppled dictator and his supporters to surrender. "It is over. Give up," he said, although he hardly expected Gaddafi to heed his advice. At the same time, both he and Sarkozy said that the West will help Libyans "find Gaddafi and to bring him to justice." And then Cameron delivered the kicker. "We must keep on with the NATO mission until civilians are all protected and this work is finished," he said, testifying to the Western coalition's readiness to take risks and carry through this complicated North African game to completion.

The West is surely aware that not all Arabs appreciate its military involvement in Libya. As time goes on, it will become increasingly difficult to justify this involvement and their mounting military spending. NATO, which assumed command of the operation in late March, already prolonged its mandate once in early July, for three additional months. The new deadline is September 27, and so the time has come for the alliance to decide on its next move.

Mujahedin ask liberals to move over

The rebels have not yet seized Sirte, Sabha and several other cities, but this is not the problem; it is simply a matter of time until they do. A day before the two leaders' visit, NATO delivered 24 missile and bomb attacks on the Libyan regions held by Gaddafi loyalists.

Libya is facing a much more serious problem: the danger of falling into the hands of Islamic extremists, as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said: "We cannot exclude the possibility that extremists will try to exploit a situation and take advantage of a power vacuum." This danger will also be discussed at a second Friends of Libya conference in New York on September 20.

Mahmoud Jibril, a member of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), said they would form an interim government within ten days, but the chances of this are slim. Islamists cite the fact that he was educated in the Untied States and maintain that he is Washington's puppet. The West will have to deal with Islamic radicals because they are strong and popular. Its task is to focus on the more moderate among them, those who are ready to engage in dialogue.

One of the new Libyan authorities is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who fought the Soviet army in Afghanistan alongside other mujahedin, and knows the founders of al Qaeda. He has served prison sentences in Malaysia, Thailand and Libya and claims to have been tortured by CIA agents. He is now responsible for keeping order in Tripoli.

Islamist leader Sheikh Ali Sallabi is ready to assume responsibility for ideology in the new government. He is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), led by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian sheikh residing in Qatar who is prominent in the intellectual leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

First the dirty political work, then business

There are those who may rejoice at these developments -- including certain Russian officials. They say that the West had it coming when it decided to overthrow Gaddafi, and that they could face a similar problem in Syria, where the chaos may lead to an internal power struggle with the country eventually falling into the hands of Islamists.

All this is possible. But among all the long-standing evils in the region, the West has succeeded in eradicating the worst of them, dictatorships that the people could no longer tolerate. Importantly, not only Western leaders, but many others as well are ready to get involved in these processes, which are dangerous because of their unpredictable outcomes. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has visited Egypt and Tunisia, and is expected in Libya on Friday. Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr plans to visit Libya within the next few days.

These officials and diplomats certainly have their countries' business interests in mind, but their top priority for today is politics. Unlike Russia, they tend to avoid mentioning the contracts they signed with the previous Libyan regime, claiming that they are not concerned with business but above all want to help the Libyan people. Incidentally, the first facility that Cameron and Sarkozy visited in Tripoli, moving along streets where "Merci Sarkozy" and "Thank you Britain" are common graffiti slogans, was a hospital where they spoke with the wounded and doctors.

A lot of dirty political work needs to be done before the time will come to reap dividends. Russia does not seem eager to take on this political work, but clearly wants its economic interests in Libya protected. As Libya's interim leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil said, "Russia will have its own role in the future of our country, reflecting its support of this revolution."

Yelena Suponina is a Moscow News political commentator and an expert in Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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